By Elizabeth Osta, member of the First Universalist Church of Rochester
The Reverend Sally Hamlin has become the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 150 S. Clinton Ave. in Rochester. She recently spoke with a member of her congregation about her support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. The Unitarian church has performed union ceremonies for same sex couples for many years.
Elizabeth Osta: What helped you decide to accept the call to Rochester’s First Universalist Church?
Rev. Sally Hamlin: As soon as I read the congregational profile of First Universalist I was intrigued by who this congregation was. Meeting them sealed the deal for me. They are visionary and committed, passionate and fun. And great Unitarian Universalists!
EO: How did you become Unitarian Universalist?
SH: I was looking for a religious home for our family in 1988, when my landlady said to me, when she found out I was working for Planned Parenthood as a nurse practitioner, “I don’t know you very well, but I think you are a Unitarian Universalist”. She was right.
EO: Was the support of gay rights and freedom to marry an important factor for you in choosing to be Unitarian-Universalist?
SH: For as long as I can remember, I have always had LGBT friends, and now, of course, my family includes LGBT folks, and I count myself among that designation. Raising our children, we surrounded them with people who loved life, whatever their orientation.
Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I took seriously Jesus’ message to love others as you love yourself. However, the church’s positions on the ordination of women and on reproductive rights, along with the fact that I had two daughters, helped me make the decision that I could no longer be a Roman Catholic. My theological beliefs had changed as well.
It never made any sense to me to think or act differently and my UU faith now openly says the same in our first Principle, that is respect for the inherent worth and dignity of each person.
So, to answer the question, no, it wasn’t gay rights and the freedom to marry that were important in choosing to become a Unitarian Universalist. It was a need I had to be able to more fully express my questions of religion and faith, of the meaning of life and death, of God and grace, that led me to the faith I love, which not only allows me to question, but invites my questions.
Unitarian Universalists believe that revelation is not sealed; in other words, wisdom is alive and well, right before you, waiting to be embraced and welcomed.
While as a state we have not yet legalized same gender marriages, I am happy to perform same gender weddings in our lovely church building, in a ceremony each couple can help craft. In the meantime, until same gender marriage is legal in New York, I am asking each heterosexual couple I marry to write letters of support to their congress people for the right of all to marry.
EO: The Unitarian-Universalist Denomination is active in supporting the freedom to marry. The website (www.uua.org) has videos, articles and interviews that “Stand on the Side of Love.” How do you express this support at First Universalist Church?
SH: Our congregation has a long history of supporting marriage equality, but also the issues related to the issue of marriage equality, which is based upon our belief that discrimination of any kind will result in a smaller, more hostile, less interesting world. And that includes race and class, physical ability, gender, etc., not just sexual orientation.
As human beings we need to understand that it is our diversity that makes for a healthy and whole existence, and that it is exactly that which deepens and enriches our lives. It is our diversity that will save us in the end.
EO: Your services are Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Are gay couples welcome?
SH: Everyone is welcome in our sanctuary. Our Sunday services tend towards a joyful experience with which to anchor your week. If you come through our doors, you will find laughter, good discussion, and a great cup of tea or coffee. Try it, you’ll like it!